Five yearly checks for over 40s will save 650 lives a year, says government

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 31 March 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1334
  1. Zosia Kmietowicz
  1. 1London

    Doctors in England will begin offering patients aged from 40 to 74 years a health check every five years from April, to identify and reduce their risk of vascular disease, the government has announced.

    The checks will include questions about health, lifestyle, and family medical history, measurement of weight and height, and blood tests for cholesterol and, in some cases, glucose concentrations. These will be followed up with assessments telling patients their risk of vascular disease and what they can do to reduce it.

    Modelling work by the Department of Health indicates that the checks will prevent at least 1600 heart attacks and strokes and save an estimated 650 lives each year. The checks will prevent a further 4000 people from developing diabetes, the department says, and 20 000 people will have diabetes and kidney disease detected a year earlier, allowing for better management.

    In January the prime minister announced plans to shift the focus of the NHS towards prevention of illness and tackling health inequalities across the country. All primary care trusts in England are expected to begin offering the health checks this year, with full implementation by 2012-13.

    The department’s modelling is based on a figure of 75% of the 15 million eligible people taking up the offer—the same rate of uptake as in breast cancer screening. This would mean about 2.25 million people undergoing health checks each year.

    Alan Johnson, the health secretary, said that the programme could help reduce “the health inequalities that blight the lives of the country’s most deprived families.”

    As well being offered by GPs, the health checks are expected to be available in walk-in centres and pharmacies.

    Mr Johnson also announced that prescription charges for patients with cancer will be abolished in April, benefiting an estimated 150 000 people. All trusts will also be expected to offer screening for meticillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus to elective patients who are at risk of becoming infected or passing the infection to other patients.

    The BMA said that it has been working with the government to introduce health checks and will be monitoring the programme’s development.

    Commenting on the programme, Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrats’ shadow health secretary, said, “Any move to encourage people to go for health checks is positive and to be welcomed. However, the danger is that this initiative will fail to reach those who need it most and will instead only be used by those with already healthy lifestyles.

    “Screening programmes are not taken up in nearly as great numbers in poorer communities, so there is no reason to believe that simply receiving a letter will encourage any great uptake in these groups.”


    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1334


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